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Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 Paperback – May 19, 1995
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Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
In the marvelous introduction, Chauncey also makes the profound point that the gay male world of the pre-World War II era "was not a world in which men were divided into `homosexuals' and 'heterosexuals.'" Chauncey proceeds to explain: "This book argues that in important respects the hetero-homosexual binarism, the sexual regime now hegemonic in American culture, is a stunningly recent creation." Later in the introduction, Chauncey writes: "Heterosexuality, no less than homosexuality, is a historically specific social category and identity." Chauncey's study begins in the 1890s, "a time when New York was famous for being a `wide-open town,' [when] some clubs went so far as to stage live sexual performances." The so-called "Bowery resorts were only the most famous elements of an extensive, organized, highly visible gay world." At the turn of the century, men who were "`painted and powdered,' used women's names, and displayed feminine mannerisms" were called "fairies." According to Chauncey, fairies were tolerated, but not respected, in much of working-class society. During this period "Many men alternated between male and female sexual partners without believing that interest in one precluded interest in the other.Read more ›
The most important idea he explains is that the concepts of "homosexuality" and "heterosexuality" as we understand them today didn't exist one hundred years ago. Chauncey's research shows that it was adherence to traditional gender role, rather than choice of sex partner, that labelled a man as either a "fairy" or "normal." The author provides detailed descriptions of the process by which working class men in particular could have sexual relations with other men and perserve a "normal" identity so long as the sex partners were effeminate. He uses extensive supporting materials that undergird his conclusions, including accounts of the "pansies" who were not, in fact, demeaned or ostracized but instead were tolerated, courted, and may even have served a vital purpose to working men who had relocated alone to the city to support families that lived elsewhere or to make their way into adulthood.
Chauncey shows how the definition of "invert"-- detour from standard gender role-- shifted gradually to the notion of "degenerate" or "homosexual"-- men who chose other men as sex partners. He makes clear how the emerging definition of homosexuality depended on a similarly new definition of heterosexuality. These subtle but powerful social mores are detailed at length, in convincing prose.Read more ›
More than anything else, this is a work of love, being the excavation of forgotten facts in the history of gay life as it was lived by decades of gay men, experiences now mostly forgotten or scattered in obscure and fading documents. It is an extraordinary work of social archeology, resurrecting a world I never knew exisited. And Chauncey does this in exceptional detail, using clear prose, so that by the end the geography of this world has been salvaged and reconstructed, like Combray from Marcel's teacup.
As the book proceeds, the writing becomes stronger, particularly as the facts become more readily available, and the arguments and conclusions become more convincing. The last chapter is especially good on the submergence of gay life after Prohibition. This book is clearly one of the masterpieces of gay history, on par with John Boswell's work especially in it's dependence on primary sources.
The only criticism I have lies in the fact that Chauncey often has trouble shaping his information and often can't create a forest out of the trees. Especially in the earlier chapters, he often fails to make a summary statement without such a host of qualifiers that you wonder why he bothers in the first place. And as a previous reviewer has noted, there are alot of repetitions that a good editor should have corrected.
Despite all these reservations, for those interested in discovering a lost world, this book will be a revelation.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a grand historical and very in-depth novel. I am a huge history buff, and so when taking history and culture into the subject matter it's an instant winner for me. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Seeking New Things
Very interesting book... really helped me understand how normal I am.Published 12 months ago by Chris Westcott
I was reluctant to pick up this book. But once I started reading this book I could not put it down. The History of the Gay community in New York City at the turn of the century is... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Jason Henry Evans
super interesting. reveals a hidden side of New Yorks history. recommended.Published 18 months ago by Dita von Krieg
This is a very well researched book on the changing perception of gays and lesbians in New York during the first half of the 20th century. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Lionel S. Taylor
This book is truly groundbreaking. The breadth and depth of sources the author found was amazing. The author also brilliantly details the complexities of sexual identity before... Read morePublished 20 months ago by Kevin_Schmidt
Bought it for school. It's quite interesting for a school book. Came quick and in great quality.Published 20 months ago by Nicole
I learned more about gay history in the early 1900s before stonewall. very deep research. it is such a great bookPublished 23 months ago by Ototo Luppy
I got this book because of some research I am doing, and have found it to be very well researched, full of information and a great look into a world that remained well hidden from... Read morePublished on April 8, 2014 by S M Senden